Grace to you!
There are two dispositions to leadership. One says I lead to serve. The other says I serve to lead. These two dispositions have implications for any leadership.
To lead to serve implies an attitude that believes in having leadership position first so one could serve others. Unfortunately, when someone who has this disposition gets the power or position of authority, hardly do they serve. If one couldn't serve when he or she has no positional authority, how would that person do so when he or she has power? They say power corrupts for good reason.
Service is a skill of humility and we know from leadership studies that one of the most fundamental virtues of servant leadership is humility. If one is not humble, the person cannot be a servant. When such a person gets power, all things must be pointing towards him or her, not towards the people they serve.
It will be all about “I did this. I built this. I made this happen...” It’s I, I, I. The language of “the we” is rarely on the lips of the person. Why? Because the ambition to lead first makes leading, rather than service, the driving force. It makes the leader the center of attention.
The preferred second disposition is to serve so as to lead. Such is the true disposition of servant leadership. The person is wired to serve and is already serving in varied little ways—in the family, in the church, in the school, in the community, at the workplace, at entry level, etc. He or she wants to help, to serve the needs of others and the system. The person is gracious, if need be, to take the back seat even when it’s evident the achievements wouldn't have been possible without him or her. We call such servant leadership.
A servant leader cares first for those he or she is serving. The servant leader is concerned about us, not about me. The servant leader isn't about praises, but about doing. The actions of the servant leader speak louder than voice. The servant leader is a walking script of service.
In the prophesy of Malachi 2:8-10, we hear the prophet denounce the self-serving leadership style of the priests who, neglecting God’s word (the Law at the time), serve their own interests. “But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you have not kept my ways but have shown partiality in your instruction” (Mal 2:8-9).
When the religious leader picks and chooses who to serve and makes decisions based on their self-serving needs, such isn’t the disposition of a servant leader. To favor select individuals over others simply because they are our buddies, forgetting that all come from the same family of God, isn’t a good example either. Servant leadership is built on the premise of common family of all.
Jesus would not hold back from condemning the religious leaders of the time for their self-serving and vainglorious behavior (see Mt 23:1-12). They like to be served instead of serve others. They love the places of honor and relish titles. The Lord would frown at such hypocrisy and pride.
If Jesus spoke to religious leaders of his time in such strong language, what do we suppose he would say to ordained ministers of his body, the Church, if they do not serve, but want to be served?
From time to time we hear of a psychological situation of clericalism where the priest assumes to know it all and do it all. He won’t allow others to suggest how things could be done better. It is all about the way he sees it. Feedback is neither graciously accepted nor implemented. When things go wrong, it is the people's problem and not his. Yet when people offer their opinion, it is tossed. Such an attitude from some of us priests is a complete opposite of the humility of service.
The kind of leadership the Lord teaches us is servant leadership. We begin to work towards that when we think service first before we think leadership. Let's not limit service only to menial jobs such as cleaning the streets, or corporal works of mercy, such as visiting the homeless, etc.
Service isn't only about these. It is much more. I could summarize it in the famous line from one of the American NFL superstars, Gale Sayers, "I'm Third." (God is first. Others second. I'm third). It’s the attitude of being third.
The Lord tells us: “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Mt 23:11-12).
Praying for the grace to serve and by serving lead. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Sunday Week 31 A: Mal 1:14-2:2, 8-10; I Thes 2:7-9, 13; Mt 23:1-12]
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.